Friday, November 23, 2007

Some follow-up thoughts on the Utah taser incident

I usually don't obsess (much) over seemingly trivial incidents like the one I posted about on Wednesday evening in which a Utah driver was tased by a Utah Highway Patrol officer. Ordinarily, I'd have made my original post and let it go. But after reading electronic reams of blog posts and subsequent comments, I need to vent just a bit more. Let's get a few things out of the way first, though.

I'm not against tasers. They're an excellent, usually non-lethal tool for cops to use to get a dangerous situation under control. And I'm not against cops. I firmly believe that the vast majority of cops are good cops with the public's best interests at heart.

The incident in question, though, lays bare some troubling attitudes prevalent among some in the law enforcement community, as well as among some regular citizens. That attitude is that we should fear the men and women we pay to protect us, and that simply doesn't make for a healthy and free society.

Among the comments on the incident at Hot Air, which this morning number well in excess of 600, are many from people identifying themselves as cops. Nearly every one of them sided with the Utah patrolman. Their rationale is consistently one of "talk back to a cop, get tased". A few say the driver was acting in a threatening manner by waving his arm (he was pointing at a speed limit sign) or that he kept "fiddling" with his pocket (when he wasn't pointing at the sign, he had his right thumb hooked in his right pocket).

Beyond the specifics of this incident lie a culture prevalent in the law enforcement community that there are "us" (cops) and "them" (non-cops). This mindset assumes that every non-cop encountered in the line of duty is a potential criminal. The non-cop just may need a little coaxing to get the latent criminal to come out. And that's exactly what happened in the Utah incident -- the cop succeeded in manufacturing a criminal out of an uppity citizen stopped for a minor traffic violation.

The mistaken response to this cultural mindset is that we (the citizens) should give cops a wide berth, avoid any incidental contact with them, and grovel before them when we do come in contact.

And out of that response comes fear, and that's just not healthy.


Mark said...

When I saw that video, it just struck me as wrong. That cop was just plain wrong.

Anonymous said...

"Absolute power currupts absolutely"

Anonymous said...

The US has indeed become a nation of rules not of men, just as the founders wanted... or did they? What happened to common sense? Sure this kid was not obeying the cop, but if the cop had applied a little of mom's old fashioned common sense he would have checked the box for the citizen refusing to sign the ticket and got into his car and left. Or when he noticed the female passenger was PREGNANT he would have put the taser away and let them leave with a citation. Instead the kid gets repeatedly tasered and probably spentthe better part of 24 hours in jail being "processed"... our country has become a nation of regulations, not laws, laws leave room for common sense, regulations do not.

Eric said...

Anthony --

You're correct, up to a point. In the cop's defense, whether the passenger was pregnant or not is immaterial. Also, it appears that in Utah, like many other states, the signature is a bond, which in effect releases the motorist on a promise to pay the fine or appear in court. So Utah cops must take into custody a motorist who refuses to sign.

That said, the cop did nothing to inform the kid of the consequences for not signing. Does he have to? Probably not. But a good cop would have been able to keep the situation from escalating.

I think the cop decided up front the kid was a dirtbag, and decided to treat him like one. "Us and them".

PS -- I prefer "Power corrupts, absolute power is even more fun."

Annie said...

I have seen this video, and I think that the situation could have been avoided if EITHER of them had been more humble. The motorist should have been more compliant and the police officer could have been less "taser-happy"

I guess this is old news now, but I think that it is a situation worth examining.

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